No reason for teachers to stay in Oklahoma

Oklahoman Published: May 5, 2014

Regarding “Oklahoma schools struggle to retain, recruit educators” (Oklahoma Watch, April 27): Responding to the fact that Oklahoma schools “are grappling with vacancies in all departments and grade levels,” state Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said teachers must understand that “the state is in a fiscal pinch.” He should know. He and his fellow Republicans have helped create this pinch. Soon, the Republican tax cut will cost the state budget $50 million, a figure that will rise in coming years.

In the next fiscal year, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the tax break for horizontal drilling will deprive the state budget of $252 million. Tuition at Oklahoma colleges increased by 16 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2008 to 2013, according to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities. Oklahoma’s cuts to higher education in the same period have amounted to 26 percent.

As tuition rises, so does student debt. And as student debt rises, fewer graduates can afford to teach. In the last fiscal year, Oklahoma ranked 49th in the nation — and last in its seven-state region — in per-student K-12 spending. While its student population has grown by 40,000, Oklahoma has cut per-student spending at the highest rate in the nation.

Oklahoma teacher salaries in the last fiscal year ranked 48th in the nation. Oklahoma’s education graduates can earn more money by moving across the state line in any direction. Oklahoma Republicans, who champion economic self-interest, no doubt wish them godspeed.

Kris Lackey, Norman